Monday, August 29, 2011

Day to Day Life with Staff

     Many of you have asked about our staff and for the most part I have refrained from sharing because 1) I'm a bit embarrassed that we have staff and 2) I am not so sure how I like it.   It seems petty to pick on such a convenience but it can be a hassle too.                           
     We were fortunate to settle into a household helper that has made us very happy and comfortable in our home from the beginning.  I still would not trade her for any amount of gold, even with the prices of gold going up.  She has been a blessing and so helpful dealing with everyday things that I have NO IDEA how to do.  Plus I think she might save me as much money each month negotiating my grocieries as I pay in her salary.  When she does the shopping for me (most often) she is able to get much better prices on everything.  Just this past weekend I was out and knew I needed eggs.  I asked our driver if he could bring me to the market to get eggs where he would take our household helper.  He asked if he should buy the eggs or did I want to get out of the car.  I knew what he meant so I asked him, “Will eggs cost me more than they will for you?”  Emphatically he said “Oh yes madam!”  Sad but true, when household staff does the shopping, I save money.  Problem for some people is that this is not always the case.  Sometimes one hires a staff member that will pad the bills and the inflated prices pad the staff’s wallet.  I feel very fortunate and equally as confident, that I have not had this problem with our household helper.  But she is proving to be not always perfect.  I have asked her not to put away the children’s clothes.  Partly because I don’t think it is too much to ask these kids to do something for themselves but the other part is she really has no idea who wears what and all of the clothes get mixed into each other’s drawers.  To us, it is obvious that a size 10 boy’s shirt does not belong to Mister but it seems harder when you have a female pre-teen, teen and Momma.  To her credit she does not put the kids’ clothes away any longer but Mister and I have to live with it and know that our drawers are on display.  In a literal sense as well, our clothes are dried on the rack in our front living room.  I asked for the clothes to be kept in the house while drying because it was making some female household members a bit crazy looking for a piece of clothes only to have it up on the roof drying.  I asked for the clothes to be dried only inside the house.  Problem is I then have to explain that when the music teacher or maintenance or the half a dozen other people who seem to need access to my home in any given week come through my house, especially those of the male gender, I would really prefer any bras, undergarments, male or female, please be politely removed from the drying rack which is delicately placed in the center of the living room for the world to view.  As if the flow of people coming through here doesn’t expose us enough, sharing the colors of our undergarments- we would really prefer it to remain a private matter.  It feels silly to think that other people seeing our underwear is embarrassing when on any given day as we drive from here to there we see countless children with no pants on, people bathing or men urinating at every given wall.  It is still my underwear and I would prefer to keep it private.  Trust me, you would prefer I keep my underwear private as well.
      So small corrections seem small but if not addressed can become much larger issues.  We have recently hired a cook for a few nights each week.  I thought it would be nice to have a few nights to not think about meals and leave it to the cook.  Sounds nice to most people I would think.  As long as all the groceries are from my house I would know if the ingredients were safe for our allergies. We only buy gluten free items, so all is safe.  We have had gluten free Indian dishes in many different forms but it all tastes the same, like Indian cooking.   Unfortunately for me it is not appreciated by more members in our household, so the cook needed a little talking to.  We addressed different types of cooking and ways to communicate the different ideas.  She told me she could read so I left recipes.  The recipes were not followed but the pictures were.  She did not read English so well.  So I left recipes with translations into Hindi.  Followed a bit better but she does not understand western cooking.  I asked her to clarify what she meant when she said she "does western cooking" during our interview.  She launched into a long story of how she has many certificates in cooking and the neighbor downstairs has seen them. (We both share the cook; neither of us wants to commit to a full week of cooking so we share the joy).  She tells me how she knows many cooking styles and different recipes.  I asked her to share the recipes with me so I could see if they will work for our family.  Trouble is the recipes are all in her head, not on paper.  Now how convenient is the cook?  I know the logical answer is to fire her and start again but remember the kids with no pants and people bathing near the streets…I can’t just let a person go without work because of my petty pallet and the pallet of those I eat with.  Plus I have turned this into a positive for me.  Now whenever I cook the family loves what I have made, not because I have increased my cooking capability but because my cooking is western and not just from a picture.
      We also have one more driver.  Ahhhh, the driver.  People will tell you the driver is the most important hire you can make while living overseas.  I am not about to challenge that statement but I am going to point out, the more that statement is stated, the larger the heads of those applying for the position of driver become.  I have yet to meet a more arrogant bunch of applicants in my life.  They know that they have what I want; they have confidence to drive on the roads in Delhi.  And these guys are not afraid to put their thumbs in their ears, wag all fingers and with their tongues out spit raspberries in my direction:  Nah nah nah to you madam.  Most of the time I feel like I am at the driver's mercy and it bothers me because it is MY car.  I stress to the drivers we have had that it is my car, not Mister’s car or the family car but MY car.  In reality the car is not registered to just me.  It can’t be because I am of the female gender and married.  Paperwork would get all clogged up and bureaucracy would halt just trying to explain how a car could be registered to a female who is married.  Heck, I am not so sure a woman could even register her husband’s death.  She might need her husband to do that for her.  I am not looking to investigate that further though, mind you.
      As relaxing as it may seem to have someone to take care of the little niceties in life,  it is a full time job managing the staff.  Just like any other business, sometimes the employees don’t get along and I have to intervene to make our needs the priority.  Please check your attitude at the door and remove your shoes before entering.  I need to train and come up with creative ways to make my point because of communication differences.  And I need to make it comfortable for my families’ needs to be met and not get pulled into the drama of others, no matter how real or made up the drama may be.  It is uncomfortable to know that my family has so much while others have so little but we must draw a line, and for me the hardest part to learn is living with the line that is drawn.  It is the struggle of opposites that I repeat. So it goes the day to day life with staff.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And they are off...

     In the lead there is a three way tie.  All of our kids are racing into the new school year with full excitement, vigor and joy to be back with friends.  So much of our summer was spent away from each other.  Away from family for three of us and also away from all those we have met here in Delhi.  This place clears out the day school finishes in May and doesn’t fill back up until hours before school is to begin.  Many of those who stay through the summer in Delhi are either on their way to another location or waiting until a week or so to pass before they travel. 
School tours were given and supplies organized, combinations memorized and phone numbers shared.  The excitement for school to start is contagious and it is fun to wrap one’s self into it.  School at AES has been in full swing for three full weeks.  I was fortunate to help with tours for new families at the AES campus.  Slightly ironic given I haven’t been here a year and some questions were dealing with the beginning of the school year calendar.  I am a proud badge wearer of the “I don’t know” club but I am willing to help us find out. 
     This week we have been reading about our family and friends back in the states beginning the school year the way we knew the beginning to be, and it's happening without us.  I still receive email messages from the school district we left behind and keep in touch reading on face book and friend’s blog sites but it leaves a slight twang of “missing you” singing in my heart.  The world we know, half a globe away is still marching on and doing quite well without us. Naturally, (insert eye roll here).   Hand prints are placed on the walls of the high school and our senior’s is missing (although you can look for her name thereJ).  Middle school is fretted over and prepared for so thoroughly with the program we left behind.  I feel much of the transition here was from our home schooling and preparing while we had little to do this summer. (I miss Mrs. D principal at the middle school).  And this is our last year with an elementary school student.  Fifth grade is huge and a fifth grade teacher is one of the most remembered teachers in the human memory. *
     So as we all march ahead into a new school year with smiling faces and joy in our hearts know that we also remember when, how, and where it used to be and are fondly thinking of all of you too.  Cheers to the first day of school for all of you. Ting You are in our thoughts and we hope your messages fill our bags and boxes with stories of your first day/week back to school.  If this were a race that would make us...starting three weeks earlier than you.
*This research is taken from my own opinion and the opinion of those around me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggity-jog!

     After our Thailand trip we arrived back at home in Delhi just nine days before school is to start at the American Embassy School.  Mister and Kid One returned together just five days later.  As our family is settling in with the five of us in one home again, we have been in to the school for schedules and supplies and to help with what we can to make the new school year go well.  We see many families we have not seen for the summer and are meeting many new faces as well.  I have read other blogs of those who have lived here in Delhi before me detailing the return to the new school year as a strange mix of reunited and land of the lost all thrown into one mix.
     Our house is that same mix at the moment.  Our family is reunited at last after the month of July in separate areas of the world.  While those that were in Thailand were away our wonderful house helper went on a vacation of her own to see her family in southern India.  While away she must have caught some kind of bug and has been sick since her return.  I asked her to stay home when she has a fever so as not to spread the illness to others.  We have checked on her by phone every day and encouraged her to seek doctor’s advice and exams to find out if she is in need of other medical attention.  So far it is just a nasty flu/cold and she has some medicine for her cough and congestion.  We are also in the land of the lost with her absence.  We have been forced to do laundry and wash dishes and all five of us have been in general picking up after ourselves.  As wonderful as it is to have the help, it has been nice to get back to our household routines with the five of us all in charge of ourselves.  It’s an odd feeling accomplishment to see the loads of laundry all done and put away, the dishes done and know that we washed and dried them ourselves.  We do not have an automatic dishwasher in our house, just the manual washers we brought.  We will admit we are spoiled to have help with these tasks on most days.  It makes the horns that honk all the time, and the feeling of being pushed where ever we go, the constant stares, the higher prices and all the other things we find ourselves complaining about that much more tolerable knowing that at home, we are spoiled and yet we are affecting the life of another human being while we are being spoiled in the process.  Again the odd mix of opposites in India, but it is our home again, home again, jiggity jog!

Note from the author; the nursery rhyme actually makes me think of my mom (and home).  I remember as a young child Mom reciting this rhyme for us kids at times.
It's a Mother Goose nursery rhyme:
To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog, Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.
To market, to market, to buy a plum bun, Home again, home again, market is done.